The Road Back: Chris Mihm
by Chip Schaefer
Director, Athletic Performance/Player Development
August 24, 2007
When Laker center Chris Mihm suffered a severe sprain of his right ankle in March of 2006 little did he realize how long it would take him to get back on the court.
Not only was Chris unable to play the rest of that season, but he continued to be plagued by pain and swelling through the summer and into training camp the following October.
The decision was made in November of 2006 that Chris’s best chance to resume his career at a high level was to have major reconstructive surgery, essentially changing the biomechanics of his ankle and forcing him to miss the entire 2006 -2007 season.
Following the successful surgery, Chris’s ankle was immobilized and he was non-weight bearing for over 2 months. Following this period, Chris was allowed to begin partial weight bearing and some gentle passive range of motion exercises. (These are exercises where the clinician moves the joint rather than the patient). Gradually Chris was able to work his way up to full weight bearing and active range of motion (the patient actively moves the joint themselves), and active resistive range of motion (the patient moves the joint with additional resistance such as elastic bands or weights).
One of the challenges with any patient is failing to recognize that the focus can’t be limited to the joint that’s been injured. Chris now had significant loss of strength and range of motion throughout his kinetic chain including but not limited to his knee, hip and spine, that all had to be addressed.
Under the supervision and guidance of Head Athletic Trainer Gary Vitti, Athletic Performance Coordinator Alex McKechnie, and myself, Chris gradually worked his way back to having essentially normal pain free function in his daily activities. This was obviously still a long way from meeting the demands of playing basketball at the highest level in the world, and there was still much work to be done.
The first thing to address prior to designing his program was to evaluate the quality of Chris’s movement. Following an injury as severe as Chris’s a person typically develops numerous adaptive and essentially dysfunctional movement patterns in order to compensate for pain and limitations in his normal range of motion.
Step one was to screen Chris on the quality of his movements by asking him to perform several simple exercises, for example an “overhead” squat, where the patient squats as deep as they can while holding their arms above their head. We are then able to observe this movement and determine where Chris has limitations or restrictions due to overly tight musculature in one area and perhaps a pronounced weakness in another. We then create a program to specifically address these issues and continue to observe and monitor Chris’s progress, continually adjusting as we see fit.
The first phase of Chris’s program focused on creating stability, and this starts with the area familiar to many of us and that is the “core” which is essentially the muscles that stabilize and control the pelvis and low back.
Once we’ve established that stability, we can then proceed to focus on increases in strength and power. This is achieved primarily through progressive resistance exercises performed with weights. Once we established baseline levels in those areas, Chris was then ready for general agility work followed by more highly intense basketball specific speed and agility training. With gradual increases in both the volume( amount of exercise) and intensity (the difficulty of exercises).
Chris is now primed and ready to begin training camp October 1st with virtually no restrictions and will hopefully pick up where he left off when he was enjoying the best statistical year of his career.